Museum Moment: Body Language – Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest

Why do we have an exhibition about Northwest Coast tattooing?

Like the many Indigenous art forms from the Northwest Coast, the visual language of tattooing is truly beautiful. It is simple and complex at the same time, strong and engaging, but what do we actually know about it? Even with the extreme popularity of tattooing in the last two decades, many people don’t have a clear understanding of its roots or what certain images mean.

Many people will choose a tattoo that has special meaning to them, but some think nothing of taking an image that has great significance to its original culture, containing powerful spiritual imagery that is central to the identity of those individuals, clans or communities.

It is so important to understand the history of how the practice of tattooing was taken away from Indigenous communities and how their important images were also appropriated as mere decoration for others who don’t understand.


When people get a ‘tribal’ tattoo do they consider the origins? Which tribe or band? From what part of the world? What does it mean to them? Some tattoo shops post ‘flash’ (images of designs they offer) that mix ancient Celtic spiritual designs with Northwest Coast designs, Navajo designs and significant Maori symbols, all labelled tribal.



In our largely European based culture, everything is for the taking, but how do we feel when our images, like crosses or other Christian symbols are used inappropriately? Try googling ‘tribal tattoo ideas’ and see if you can find any information about their meanings and origin.Join us for our upcoming virtual speaker series to learn more about the reclamation of traditional tattooing. Guest curator Dion Kaszas will be talking about his work and the creation of the exhibition Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest.

Virtual talk Saturday, February 13 at 2PM MST. Please register at the link below